5 Things Dog Owners Should Know About Ticks

Young Man taking care of a dog
Marc Oeder / Getty Images

Ticks are external parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts, typically mammals. In North America, there are at least eight known species of ticks that can feed on dogs. These same ticks can also affect humans.

Ticks seem to be increasing in prevalence over time. In 2014, the Companion Animal Parasite Council announced that expanding tick territories were expected to expand, and that a tick-borne diseases would pose a higher threat to pets that were once less-susceptible. 

As a dog owner, here’s what you need to know about ticks:

  • 01 of 05

    Ticks Carry Disease

    Attached tick. © iStock.com/Henrik_L

    Ticks are known vectors for some potentially dangerous diseases. Not all ticks transmit disease, but the threat of disease is always present. The symptoms of most tick-borne diseases include fever and lethargy, though some can also cause weakness, lameness, joint swelling and/or anemia.

    Common tick-borne diseases include Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and more. Ticks may also cause localized redness, infection and even temporary paralysis.​

  • 02 of 05

    Ticks Are Experts at Finding Hosts

    Close-up of Wood Tick or American Dog Ticks on grass, mating., Dermacentor variabilis, Near Thunder Bay, ON, Canada.
    Stephen J. Krasemann / Getty Images

    Ticks are hardwired to sense motion, body heat and carbon dioxide (which is exhaled by mammals). They are also able to jump great distances relative to their size. They hide out in tall grasses and similar areas waiting for a good host to approach. Once on the host, the tick finds a place to attach its mouthparts. The tick drinks the host's blood until it becomes engorged. It is during this time that dangerous pathogens can enter the host's bloodstream.

  • 03 of 05

    Ticks Don't Just Live in the Woods


    Ticks tend to hide out in tall grass or plants until a host is found. Though there are plenty of ticks in wooded areas, this is not their only habitat. Ticks can live in your backyard, even in urban areas. Keeping grass short and plants neatly pruned can help minimize the presence of ticks, but there is no guarantee. Check your dog regularly for ticks as a precaution.

    Also remember that some ticks may hitch a rid into your home on the dog, then jump onto you or another pet. If you have been in an area where ticks might be hiding, unroll the cuffs of your pants and shake them out before entering the house. Check yourself and your kids for ticks just in case.

  • 04 of 05

    There's a Certain Way to Remove a Tick From Your Dog

    Removing a tick with the Tick Twister. ©iStock.com/sasel77

    It's not that difficult to remove a tick if you know how to do it properly. First put on gloves, if possible. Use tweezers or a specially designed tick-removal tool. Position the tweezer tip or tool at the site where the tick's mouth meets the skin. Pull the tick straight out. Take care not to squeeze the body of the tick, as this can inject disease and bacteria into the dog. Avoid tricks like lighting a match. Also, if the head stays in the skin, gently remove it with the tweezers. Watch the area for the next few days. Contact the vet if you notice significant irritation or signs of infection.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Ticks Can Be Prevented


    The best way to protect your dog from ticks is to prevent them in the first place. There are a variety of tick prevention products that can help keep your dog safe (some also prevent fleas). Talk to your vet about the best product for your dog. However, know that none are 100% effective. If you live in an area where ticks are prevalent, you should check your dog frequently. Even if there are not a lot of ticks in your area, you should check your dog occasionally, especially if your dog goes to a potentially tick-friendly area. Removing ticks before they attach (or shortly after) will help prevent disease.